The final week of the 2020 Major League Baseball season is here. The unusual, shortened 60-game regular season is set to wrap up on Sunday and the 2020 MLB postseason will be here in one week. There are a few very tight races in the standings as we near the finish of the regular season.
Now, let's take a closer look at some of the biggest stories from the previous week in baseball, with each one receiving a buy/sell decision:
Buy: Marlins will hold postseason spot
The Miami Marlins were the first team in the 2020 regular season to suffer from a coronavirus outbreak. It happened within the first week of the season, and saw 18 players test positive. The club was quarantined and temporarily shut down from playing. When they finally returned -- with a makeshift roster -- they jumped out to a 7-1 start and took hold of first place in the National League East. Now, fast forward to September, it's been a bit of an up-and-down ride since their hot start, but the Marlins have managed to string together a 13-11 record so far for the month and are two games above .500 on the season. That's good enough for second place in their division and No. 5 seed in the NL playoff field. That's also good enough to earn them a playoff spot if this year's postseason was under the traditional format.
Even more impressive, the Marlins have actually thrived in a jam-packed schedule. Because of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent shutdown, Miami has had to squeeze in a lot of games in a short period of time, which meant playing 27 games over the final 23 days of the season. On top of that, they made up for postponed games with seven-inning doubleheaders, a task they were unexpectedly good at, putting together a 10-4 record in those doubleheaders. It's in part due to the club's general resilience, but also due to their depth and young starting pitching. Here's where the rotation — one with an average age of 25 years-old — stands:
Nearly everything about this 2020 season is strange. But, the rebuilding Marlins -- who lost 105 games last season -- finding ways to win has been one of the stranger happenings. The Marlins have to close out the season with series against the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees. It's the first time Miami will face New York this year, while the club has a 3-4 record against Atlanta in 2020.
I'm going to buy the Marlins hanging onto to their spot in the postseason. Despite the Yankees and Braves both hitting their stride as of late, I think Miami is going to be able to squeeze out enough wins in this final week to stay in it. It's going to be tight. Maybe they'll drop from the fifth seed to seven or eight, but I see them finding a way to hold on. A postseason appearance this year would be the first since the club upset the Yankees to win its second World Series title in franchise history, back in 2003.
Buy: Yankees can slug way through playoffs
Speaking of the New York Yankees, this club has had yet another tough go around with a string of injuries to core players. But, despite that, they've managed to play well enough for another postseason appearance. The rotation in Bronx is shaky, and they're going to be heading into the playoffs for the second straight season without a full, healthy starting pitching staff. Aside from their top two guys, the remainder are not 100 percent reliable:
The Yankees lost lefty James Paxton earlier this month after he suffered a setback in his rehab from a forearm strain. The southpaw posted a 6.64 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 20.1 innings during five starts in 2020. And the club was already coming into the 2020 season down a starter with Luis Severino still recovering from his February Tommy John surgery.
It hasn't been the slugging duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton carrying this offense -- both spent significant time on the injured list this season -- it's actually been DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit. LeMahieu looks like he's going to take the league's batting average (.365) title, while Voit is pulling away to claim the overall home run (21) lead. Outfielder Clint Frazier also deserves some credit for making the most out of his August call-up this year and he's batting .296/.410/.574 with eight home runs and 26 RBI in 34 games.
The club boasts a plus-49 run differential, despite their pitching staff giving up 76 homers on the season. That's more than the rebuilding Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and disappointing Los Angeles Angels have, by the way. The Yankees strategy most nights is simply to outslug their opponent. Take this example against the Toronto Blue Jays:
Honestly, I feel like the buy/sell decision on this one could be a toss up. That's how shaky the Yankees pitching situation is right now. And well, it's not what you want a week before the playoffs are set to begin. On the flip side, it helps to have the momentum the Yankees do heading into this final week of the regular season.
They're hitting their stride at just the right time, posting a season-high 10-game winning streak recently -- even if the winning streak was mostly wins over the Orioles and Red Sox. Overall, they've posted a 12-9 record so far in September and the offense is hitting .252/.350/.473 this month. I'll say that I'm buying the Yankees able to stay afloat. Even if their pitching stumbles in the playoffs, they should be able to make it out okay thanks to their potent offense.
Sell: Braves have enough to overcome pitching woes
One of the Yankees' NL counterparts is facing a similar situation. The Atlanta Braves were hit hard with an array of unfortunate injuries and setbacks to their rotation. Like New York, the Braves have relied on their powerful offense to propel them to first place in the NL East. The club's .835 OPS and .487 slugging percentage are the best in the league. The bullpen's been mostly solid. But their weak spot is exposed when you look at where their starters rank this season.
5.79 - 2nd-worst in the league
1.45 - 5th-worst
4.97 - ranked 20th
4.05 - 3rd-worst
Atlanta suffered a tough blow when they lost ace Mike Soroka to a torn Achilles at the beginning of the season, and aside from lefty Max Fried and 22-year-old rookie right-hander Ian Anderson, the Braves haven't gotten any other promising performances from the rest of their staff.
Before the season even began, the Braves were going to be without a presumed starter. Veteran right-hander Felix Hernandez decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns. And then, just a few days into the season, the Braves designated Mike Foltynewicz for assignment after he suffered a significant drop in his four-seam fastball velocity. Folty gave up six earned runs in his first and only start of the season against the Rays.
Right-hander Touki Toussaint was optioned to Atlanta's alternate training site after he posted an 8.88 ERA in 24.1 innings on the year and a 5.97 ERA in 95 career big-league innings. Huascar Ynoa hasn't really been able to provide steady innings and Kyle Wright is looking better as of late but still owns a 5.74 ERA from seven starts. The Braves were even hanging onto hope that veteran Cole Hamels would be able to help, but he was shut down with shoulder fatigue after just one 2020 start. Even the reliable Fried hit the injured list earlier this month with back spasms.
Now, entering the final week and readying for playoffs, the Braves rotation looks like this:
- LHP Max Fried
- RHP Ian Anderson
- RHP Josh Tomlin
- RHP Kyle Wright
That's kind of a mess, to be honest. At best, it's mostly unproven but with some potential. At worst, it's a huge step down from what the Braves were hoping for their rotation in 2020. Despite injury after injury, the club has continued to march ahead for another division crown. Again, it helps when your offense is generating as much and as consistently as Atlanta's hitters have been.
The Braves offense has pushed them closer to third straight division title. They are led by Freddie Freeman, who has managed to put up an MVP-worthy campaign (.340/.460/.624) after a scary bout with the coronavirus at the beginning of this summer. The rotation could be just enough to squeak past a club in the best-of-three Wild Card Round, but the Braves are almost certainly going to hit trouble in a longer series. They just don't have enough depth. I'm selling on Atlanta's offense being enough for the Braves to break through this year. The Braves have not advanced past the NLDS round since 2001.
Sell: A's ready for deep postseason run
We already knew that the chase for the American League West crown was a two-team race between the Houston Astros and the Oakland Athletics. Now, we've got ourselves a division winner in the Athletics as they clinched their first divisional championship since 2013. The A's are also going to try to do something they also haven't done since 2013 in the postseason: advance to play in the Divisional Series.
Without the traditional postseason format this year, winning the division doesn't present a huge benefit. The Athletics will have home-field advantage in the Wild Card Round, but there is no one-and-done Wild Card Game to avoid. Furthermore, even home-field advantage is less of an advantage because fans will not be allowed into ballparks during the postseason, at least during the early rounds.
But, despite all of that, the A's are still going to be aiming to stop a postseason skid that's seen them lose in three straight AL Wild Card Games (2014, 2018, 2019). In the best-of-three format in the Wild Card round, Oakland might have a better chance of regrouping if necessary. But either way, this club is past due for a deep playoff run. The A's haven't played in the League Championship Series since 2006.
I just have a tough time committing to the buy here. I guess I could make the argument for both sides, but I tend to embrace the sell side a bit more. Yes, the 2020 A's are a very good team, and they're probably the best equipped they've been to make a deep playoff run in a long time. But I can see the Oakland offense -- good but not great this year -- facing some serious trouble if they were to go up against a pitching staff like Cleveland's.
*All stats current through Monday, Sept. 21 games